(AP) President George W. Bush said Friday that the fight in Iraq has been longer and more costly than expected, but he defended the U.S.-led invasion, saying the world could not risk leaving Saddam Hussein's power unchecked.
In a speech he was giving later Friday about his Middle East policies, Mr. Bush defended the war, said he sees progress toward finding a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reaffirmed the U.S. position that Iran should not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon.
Mr. Bush, in a sweeping overview outlining ongoing challenges in the Mideast, acknowledged his critics who said his administration tried to link the war in Iraq to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. While it's true that Saddam Hussein was not connected to the attacks, Mr. Bush said the decision to oust him cannot be viewed in isolation from them.
"In a world where terrorists armed with box cutters had just killed nearly 3,000 people, America had to decide whether we could tolerate a sworn enemy that acted belligerently, that supported terror and that intelligence agencies around the world believed had weapons of mass destruction," Mr. Bush said, referring to intelligence reports that later proved false.
"It was clear to me, to members of both political parties, and to many leaders around the world that after Sept. 11, this was a risk we could not afford to take," the president said about the war, which has claimed the lives of more than 4,200 U.S. military personnel and will define his legacy.
Moreover, Mr. Bush said that after Saddam's regime had been toppled by U.S.-led forces, his administration chose to stand by the Iraqi people, help nurture a budding democracy - even launch a military buildup when increased violence threatened to tear the nation asunder.
"When Saddam's regime fell, we refused to take the easy option and install a friendly strongman in his place," he said. "Even though it required enormous sacrifice, we stood by the Iraqi people as they elected their own leaders and built a young democracy."
Mr. Bush said his policies in the Middle East, which have not always been popular, have not always gone according to plan, and in some cases, have fallen short of the administration's goals.
"For example, the fight in Iraq has been longer and more costly than expected," he said.
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